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Surge In Zika Virus Cases: Can It Adversely Impact Pregnant Women?

The Health Ministry has issued an advisory to all states given the sudden surge in Zika virus cases in Maharashtra. Know its symptoms and impact on pregnant women.

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Manya Marwah
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With the rise in Zika virus cases in several cities of Maharashtra, the Centre has issued an advisory to all the states to keep a lookout for further diagnosis of the virus as well as adequate surveillance of affected patients. Maharashtra has thus far reported eight cases of Zika virus, six of which are from Pune, one from Kolhapur, and the last from Sangamner. Two of the eight reported cases were pregnant women. This is cause for concern as the virus is known to cause birth defects.

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What is the Zika virus?

According to NDTV, Zika virus disease (ZVD) is a mosquito-borne disease transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. While it is usually mild to moderate disease in adults and requires no specific treatment, in pregnant women, it may cause microcephaly in the fetus -- a condition in which the head is significantly smaller due to abnormal brain development. It is thus passed from the mother to the fetus.

It is therefore most important to protect pregnant women from this virus, as the condition, if passed onto the fetus, can result in long-term physical and intellectual disabilities. Dr Manish Machave, consulting obstetrician, and gynaecological endoscopic surgeon, Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune, told IANS that the condition can also give rise to eye defects in the newborn baby such as damage to the retina and optic nerves, leading to vision problems.

It can also cause hearing impairments with structural and functional issues in the ear; growth restrictions both in the womb and after birth, leading to low birth weight and stunted growth; and joint deformities with limited range of motion in some joints, giving rise to arthrogryposis.

He also said that pregnant women exposed to the virus during the first trimester are most at risk. It is primarily transmitted through the mosquito itself, but it can also be transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusion, and organ transplantation. 

Though the World Health Organization says that most people with Zika virus infection do not develop symptoms, the patients that do have symptoms generally develop rash, fever, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache that lasts for 2–7 days.

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Measures taken to control the situation

Despite the sudden surge of cases, media outlets have reported that there is no need to worry as the situation is well under control. In the advisory issued by the Union Health Ministry this week, requirements will be made for the availability of appropriate logistics at all levels. In addition to this, States were also urged to immediately report any detected case to the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) and National Center for Vector-Borne Diseases Control (NCVBDC).

The Ministry also informed that Zika testing facilities are available at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune; the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Delhi and a few selected virus research and diagnostic laboratories of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

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